5 Works on Assurance of Salvation
As a pastor, I find that there are several subjects that have abiding significance in the lives of the people of God that do not seem to get adequate attention from pulpit or pen. One of the most important of these subjects is the matter of the assurance of salvation. Whenever I have turned the conversation to the subject of assurance in a small group or theology group setting, several individuals inevitably come up to me afterwards to let me know that they have struggled (some for years) with assurance of salvation.
To some, assurance seems to be a simple matter. Some are able to keep their minds fixated on the objective truths of Scripture in such a way that they have an abiding peace. I remember opening up a discussion on it to a group of men a number of years ago, only to have one of the men present say, "I've never struggled with it. I know that Jesus died for my sins and rose again." There was something so simple, so beautiful, so childlike about his response. However, this is not always the case. The issue of assurance is far more complex because the conscience and the heart of man are complicated things. We are complex beings. The Scriptures also give us nuances and aids to help bring God's people to a place of assurance and confidence in Christ. In fact, some of the greatest ministers and hymn-writers in the history of the church struggled with assurance of salvation--namely, John Bunyan, John Owen, William Cowper, John Newton, Adolph Monod, etc.
There are so many factors that contribute to our assurance of salvation or the lack thereof that it takes a great deal of care in sifting through the many nuances. There is the way in which personal sin shakes our assurance of God's love and grace to us in Christ. Then, there are the accusations of the evil One--who loves to paralyze believers after they have sinned. Different personalities can also be factors in an individual's attainment of and continuance in a state of assurance. Add to this, the many ways in which our own minds and hearts deceive us.
It was for these and other reasons that many of the Puritans were interested in "cases of conscience." Puritan pastors and theologians were often asked to preach on different cases or to write diagnostic manuals dealing with the multi-variegated issues involved in Christian living and assurance of salvation. In a very real sense, Puritan and Reformed ministers throughout the history of the church have seen themselves as apothecaries--spiritual physicians of the soul. Foremost among those volumes added to the rich repository of writings on this subject are the following:
1) David Dickson and James Durham The Sum of Saving Knowledge
The product of these two great Scottish theologians, the Sum of Saving Knowledge has repeatedly been printed together with the Westminster Standards throughout church history. Robert Murray McCheyne attributes his conversion to the Lord's use of this work. He wrote, "Read in the 'Sum of Saving Knowledge;" the work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection!" Many saints have been strengthened by this work and have grown up into the full assurance of their salvation in Christ.
2) William Guthrie The Christian's Great Interest
First published in 1668, Guthrie's work has become one of the most cherished volumes in aiding believers in their quest for salvation and the assurance of salvation. A student of the great Samuel Rutherford, Guthrie had a fruitful pastorate until he was ejected from his pulpit by the civil authorities. John Owen said of this work, "I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in it than in them all." Owen went on to call Guthrie, "One of the greatest divines who every wrote."
3) John Colquhoun (pronounced 'Calhoun') Spiritual Comfort
One of the Marrowmen, Calquhoun was greatly impacted by the truths of the Law and Gospel as articulated by contemporaries and friends such as Thomas Boston and the Erskines. Calquhoun's Spiritual Comfort is one of his lesser known works and yet one that is rich in helping bring the true believer to a place of assurance and consolation in Christ.
4) Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornbeeck Spiritual Desertion
A product of the Nadere Reformatie (i.e. the Dutch Second Reformation, or Further Reformation of the 17th Century), this volume gives a clear and helpful example of the experiential Calvinism of this movement. Focusing on the often common experience believers have of feeling spiritually deserted, the authors (two of the most formidable theologians of the era) give ample reason for believers to "rejoice in the Lord and live victoriously as God's children."
5) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure
Carrying on the theological and experiential heritage of the Scottish, Dutch and English Puritans, Lloyd-Jones has given us a volume to help encourage the true believer who is struggling with questions about God's love and acceptance of him or her. In this much loved volume, the Doctor has given us sermons on various portions of Scripture that serve to build the believer up in Christ. Many a weak-hearted saint has been helped by this work.